Feb 5, 2021


When it comes to an actress's legacy, I don't think there's ever been anyone as maligned as Jill Ireland. She might even be less popular than Talia Shire (who, if we're being honest, suffered because of the parts she played, not the performances she gave). The real-life spouse of Charles Bronson, Ireland and the celebrated action icon appeared together in sixteen films (seventeen if we count her cameo in Lola), the first being 1968's Villa Rides. Not necessarily one who married an actor and then became an actress, she'd already worked fairly steadily in film and television for more than a decade before meeting Bronson on the set of 1967's The Great Escape. However, out of politeness, it's not commonly discussed that it was through Bronson's stipulation for many of his films that if the studio/director/producer wanted him, they had to have her, too. This was likely a chagrin for said filmmakers, being that, well, Jill Ireland was kind of a lousy actress.

Sure, it's all subjective and it's all just one person's opinion. But, after marrying Bronson in 1968, she made seventeen more films. Fifteen of them were Bronson pics. Their last was 1987's Assassination, considered to be the worst offender of the Bronson/Ireland pairing.

Despite the involvement of both Bronson and Cannon Films, Assassination is a surprisingly light-hearted offering from a pair of collaborators more well known for violent, stark, "adult," and at times even ugly films. Calling it a screwball comedy would be going too far, but there's a definite It Happened One Night vibe, even maintaining the "aristocracy meets working class" aesthetic, but Assassination swaps the snappy dialogue and sexual tension for rocket launchers and a lunatic plot, which sees Bronson's secret service agent single-handedly taking on an unending squad of hitmen bent on taking out the First Lady, who may or may not have been sent by the President himself. (In 1987, this was considered a wacky plot. These days...)

Assassination is oddly dated in certain aspects--beyond the frizzy hair of every female lead, that is. The most glaring example of this is the character played by Jan Gan Boyd, an Asian actress saddled with the hilariously offensive character name Charlie Chang, who spends most of the film begging Bronson to sleep with her. Over and over. In every exchange the characters share on screen, it involves the request that Bronson take her home and give her the ol' heave-ho (which he does). For someone like Bronson, who was probably the only person on Planet Earth to suffer from both superiority and inferiority complexes simultaneously, this attractive woman half his age pleading for sex was likely a machination on behalf of the filmmakers to coax Bronson into signing on to the film. (No joke: Bronson suffered a real-life lack of confidence, to the point where he'd refuse to work with actors who were taller than him.) Take all that, add the press conference scene where a reporter flat-out asks the First Lady if the President was responsible for giving her that black eye, which she'd actually suffered during a botched assassination attempt, and you've got a weirdly inappropriate action film which, if remade today, would have to be gutted and rebuilt from the ground up to avoid storms of political incorrectness.

There's nothing the least bit realistic about Assassination's conflict, and even though Bronson and Ireland were real-life husband and wife, their chemistry isn't anything to write home about, but when the film involves scenes of Bronson firing rocket launchers at fleeing motorcyclists or into entire barns to take out one dude, it's really hard to care about Assassination's shortcomings. It's a fun, light, Bronson-having Cannon film that will undoubtedly entertain the legions of fans the craggy-faced superstar left behind following his death in 2003.

Assassination is not exactly bottom-barrel Bronson, but it's nowhere near his most celebrated, either artistically (Walter Hill's Hard Times) or ironically (Michael Winner's masterpiece Death Wish 3). Still, it's a very watchable and consistently entertaining nonsensical romp with some decent stunt work and a healthy amount of casualties, but most importantly, it's Bronson doing what Bronson does best: kill men, make wry comments, and be effortlessly bad-ass while wearing a suit.

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